The anticipation that surrounded Justin Timberlake’s return to music was intense. It took seven years for him to follow-up the Grammy-winning masterpiece that was “FutureSex/LoveSounds,” and when he did in March with “The 20/20 Experience,” the pop prince helped fill a void in our musical lives, thanks to his slick R&B sound jelled with dance beats.
Now, we may be getting too much of Timberlake.
“The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2” uses the same formula that’s becoming his musical trademark — the trance-inducing grooves and futuristic electronic beats helmed by Timbaland and Timberlake, who co-wrote each song. Unfortunately it doesn’t feel new. Like “FutureSex” and the first “20/20” album, the songs on “2 of 2” are long, but they aren’t as entertaining or as cohesive as his first effort. Some tracks sound like leftovers from past recording sessions, and — dare we say it — actually drag on.
The album starts on the wrong note with “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)” and the nine-minute “True Blood,” both up-tempo songs that lack that Timberlake-esque spark and swag. The lead single, the disco number “Take Back the Night,” might be good for mere mortal pop stars, but compared to Timberlake’s own lofty standards, disappoints. A better choice would have been the Drake-assisted “Cabaret,” which is smooth and has an addictive hook.
Not all of “2 of 2” should be dismissed: “You Got It On” is soft slow jam — listen and you’ll feel like you’re on a cloud. And the midtempo “Drink You Away” is the disc’s most adventurous offering. It doesn’t sound like anything else on the album: It’s guitar driven with a strong backbeat, with a raw quality that makes it a bit indescribable — and exhilarating.
The multitalented Timberlake, one of a few who could get away with releasing two albums in a year (we’re still mad at One Direction for trying that that), is releasing dense music when most Top 40 listeners have short attention spans. The album runs 74 minutes, and the average song is six minutes.
That’s not to say Timberlake shouldn’t challenge listeners with his music — he did it magically with the electro-pop flavor of “FutureSex” before dance music made its comeback, and “20/20” did not conform to radio standards either.
But even for those people who can deal with more than 140 characters and three-minute songs — that includes me — “2 of 2” doesn’t challenge enough, and we want and expect more from one of music’s best all-around entertainers, especially when the original “20/20 Experience” still has more so much more to offer.